The screenplay has undergone a fascinating evolution since its introduction in the early cinema. After the arrival of sound in the 1920s, screenplays took on a form similar to theatrical plays, containing the main elements of dialogue, narrative sections between dialogue, text divided into scenes, scenes subdivided into shots and visual sequences, and a concise use of language throughout. This form has remained fairly constant throughout the 20th century and is still found in screenplays today.

The function of the screenplay as a written text designed to inform its own performance and guide a film through the production process, has also remained fairly constant. As early cinema evolved in the 1910s and 1920s, complex storylines, multiple-shot scenes and budget constraints forced filmmakers to plan the shape and structure of their films in advance of filming. Giving us a model that has been used in film production for over a century. However, with regard to the evolution of the screenplay within the film production process, I think Kevin Boon makes an interesting point when he suggests that ‘the film has undergone more changes to its form since the introduction of sound than the screenplays, new technologies and cinematic innovations being responsible for the majority of the changes’ (2008:20). This suggests that while film production process has evolved through the introduction of digital technologies and innovations, the screenplay followed its own path, moving away from its early form influenced by the layout of the theatrical play, into an autonomous literary artefact with a more refined storytelling style.

As the craft of screenwriting evolves into the 21st century, I wonder if our role as screenwriters will become more specialised, with some of us working on games, others on films, and others on more niche or experimental approaches yet to be discovered. Maybe we will also become more multi-skilled as screenwriters, like the early cinema practitioners were, and draw upon a range of mixed media to tell our stories, and maybe even drawing upon the skills of artists, designers, musicians, editors and directors when putting these screen stories together. It looks like the screenplay has always been in a state of flux and rather than its role in production becoming diminished or obsolete, it is becoming more broadly defined as an artefact.

While the form of storytelling for the screen will evolve and change, the fundamentals of narrative won’t and we will still need writers to provide shape and structure to these stories.



BOON, Kevin Alexander. 2008. Script Culture and the American Screenplay. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

PRICE, Steven. 2013. A History of the Screenplay. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.